Thursday, 21 May 2009

Industries are Grappling With New Bill on Climate

WASHINGTON -- The "American Clean Energy and Security Act" is one of the most ambitious efforts to re-engineer American social and economic behavior in decades, presenting risks and opportunities for a wide array of businesses from Silicon Valley to the coal fields of the Appalachians.
The legislation, better known as the Waxman-Markey bill, isn't yet law and has big hurdles to clear. A critical vote looms this week in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But even with its chances of passage uncertain, the measure has become the basis for debate in Washington over how the U.S. should respond to pressure to slash its carbon emissions.
At a White House meeting Wednesday, members of President Barack Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board endorsed the central idea of the 900-plus page measure -- to cap carbon emissions and require businesses to buy tradeable permits to pollute. The measure could create "green" jobs in the U.S. while reducing harmful pollution that might be causing global climate change, executives in the group said. They included General Electric Co. Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt, who sat next to the president.
Mr. Obama said he's "excited about the opportunity" to develop such a system and that "we've seen some great progress this week" in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Getty Images
Transportation is responsible for 27.9% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.
The Climate Bill: Industry Impact
The bill has been put forward by U.S. Reps. Henry A. Waxman, (D., Calif.) and Edward J. Markey (D., Mass.). It's prospects look good in the House, but it could face a tougher time in the Senate. Still, the bill is the most viable yet to tackle climate change.
If adopted, it would confront big sectors of the economy with potentially costly challenges. The bill requires that emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases linked to climate change be cut by 83% from their 2005 levels by 2050, long after most current members of Congress will have left office. The planned reduction is all the more ambitious considering that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions grew by 17% between 1990 and 2007.
To drive businesses and power generators to use less oil and coal and slash emissions of other gases, the Waxman-Markey bill would make businesses acquire pollution permits, which they could use to cover their emissions and sell any spares.
The current draft of the bill would give away up to 85% of those permits over the next 20 years. Still, instituting a cap and trade system would start the process of putting a price on emitting carbon dioxide. The bill's supporters say that is enough to start driving the technological innovation and investment needed to move away from fossil fuels.
"Putting a price on carbon is the most important thing we can do," Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr told reporters after the meeting of the president's advisory board. Mr. Doerr, a partner at, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, is one of a number of tech figures who have invested some of the wealth they earned during the Internet boom in clean-energy ventures that could get a boost from the Waxman-Markey proposal.
Critics of Waxman-Markey, most of them Republicans but also some Democrats, say it is a tax by another name applied in a complex and costly way.
A Congressional Budget Office analysis of climate change policy estimated that price increases associated with a 15% cut in carbon dioxide emissions would cost the average U.S. household $1,600 a year. The CBO analysis said low income households would shoulder a larger burden, as would families in coal dependent regions such as the Ohio Valley.
Harvard University economics professor Martin Feldstein questioned during the meeting with Mr. Obama whether the price might be too high for U.S. consumers, but said giving away too many pollution credits to utilities could undermine the goal of reducing emissions.
"You have to raise the price to consumers to get them to cut back," Mr. Feldstein said. "I have a hard time understanding the give-away strategy."
Lawmakers say they would compensate consumers for the added burden through tax credits and direct government subsidies. The Waxman-Markey bill would use the states to funnel monthly payments to low-income households, defined as those eligible for food stamps or with gross income up to 150% of the poverty line.
But the Waxman-Markey bill is more than just cap and trade. The proposal would establish requirements that utilities buy at least 12% of their electricity from renewable sources such as windmills, solar panels and geothermal technology.
Another section promotes "large scale" programs to spur demand for electric vehicles with incentives for buying plug-in cars and building charging stations.
The proposed bill offers auto makers several forms of assistance to make the shift to lower-carbon cars. They include as much as $50 billion in loans under an Energy Department program to spur advanced vehicle development and up to $4 billion for subsidies to consumers who trade in older vehicles for more efficient models.
In addition, auto makers would get 3% of the free pollution allowances through 2017 and 1% from 2018 through 2025 -- tied to investments in electric vehicles and other advanced technology.
The proposal would offer rebates to spur demand for appliances that are not only energy efficient, but also come equipped with "smart grid" technology that would allow a dishwasher to know the most economical time of day to run based on variable electric rates. Retailers would get incentives to push highly efficient appliances to consumers.
The act would order the Department of Energy to see to it that building codes are amended to make new buildings 30% more efficient by 2010 and 50% more efficient by 2016. The act would even establish new efficiency standards for "portable light fixtures," also known as lamps.
—Judith Burns and Josh Mitchell contributed to this article.
Write to Joseph B. White at

Farm Industry Wants Credit Where It's Due


Agriculture, in the current legislation, is exempt from emission caps, a win for farmers and ranchers afraid they'd have to figure out how to regulate emissions from, among other things, their manure lagoons, tractors and their cows, which emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Still, the farm lobby isn't satisfied. Farmers say the overall costs of climate-change regulation will trickle down to the farm through higher costs of supplies, animals, equipment and other agricultural goods.
As a result, farm groups wanted to see specific mechanisms that would let farmers earn revenue from the system. For example, they wanted to be able to earn credits for the carbon absorbed by their crops. Those credits could then be sold to others who need them to cover emissions. The current legislation doesn't include any specific language on such agriculture offsets.
The bill "utterly ignores the principles we have identified as critical to U.S. agriculture," Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, wrote in a letter to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The National Corn Growers Association said that "without the opportunity to generate revenue from greenhouse gas reductions, our growers will be unable to bear the burden of increased prices for diesel, fertilizer, steel, electricity and all other inputs necessary to provide feed, fiber and fuel for the world."
The agriculture industry is also disappointed the bill doesn't compensate farmers who find it harder to compete in global markets due to higher costs. Rick Krause, senior director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said certain industries do receive some allowances and that agriculture should be included as well.
Complicating matters in farm country is the role of corn-based ethanol in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a separate controversy playing out at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat from Minnesota and the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, was quoted recently saying that he would "bring this climate bill down" if the administration doesn't work to ensure ethanol has a prominent role in any program aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.
Write to Lauren Etter at

Steel Braces for Impact


A large portion of the U.S. steel industry could be severely hurt under a carbon-emissions cap and trade system, with some companies indicating it could push operations overseas.
U.S. Steel Corp., AK Steel, ArcelorMittal SA and OAO Severstal would be the biggest losers among the operators in the U.S., because of the carbon-intensive way that they produce steel.
These companies, called integrated mills, make steel from scratch, using iron ore and coke to produce the steel. Coke is made of carbon. If the companies are forced to reduce carbon-dioxide output or pay more for their emissions, they would be forced to sell pricier steel or simply make less of it.
The steel industry is lobbying to get credit for the fact that it has reduced carbon emissions sharply since the 1990s. Indeed, the steel industry has steadily reduced the amount of carbon emissions, but that is because of the growing production of steel made by minimills, which melt down scrap steel into new steel.
Re-melting steel emits nearly 66% less carbon dioxide in the production process. Nucor Corp., a minimill, is the largest producer of steel made within the borders of the U.S., having supplanted U.S. Steel.
It isn't feasible to switch entirely over to the minimill process, because some types of steel, such as exposed automotive parts and cans for food, have to be made through the integrated steel process, which is more rust resistant.
While minimills wouldn't be as affected by the legislation as integrated mills, they still oppose the current plan.
The worst-case scenario, the industry says, would be that the integrated steel operations would move to developing nations such as Brazil, where there are large stocks of iron ore in the earth. Set up abroad, they would essentially emit the same amount of carbon -- only without restrictions. The steel industry argues that if that scenario were to pass, the carbon emissions wouldn't be reduced, but U.S. jobs would be lost.
"We are very concerned about what is going to happen to CO2," said Gregory Mason, chief executive of U.S. operations for Severstal, a Russian company. " I'm not saying I am against the measure, but we need to be very careful that we must not allow our new climate policies to affect our core industries in this country."
Write to Robert Guy Matthews at

Expert 'masterplan' would cut carbon emissions drastically — and put an equally drastic hole in my bank account

There's plenty of room for improvement without busting the budget if I follow the more realistic options, says Alok Jha

There are scores of big and small things you can do to reduce your home's carbon footprint but it is difficult to assess independently how effective each action is relative to another. Photograph: Graham Turner
There's nothing like a detailed plan with timescales and numbers to get your thoughts in order. A month into the plan to green my Victorian home, I've been studying my options and trying to get a handle on which is the most cost-effective, a task that's been made a lot easier by Russell Smith of Parity Eco Solutions. You'll remember him from the film I made last month – the builder with masses of experience in making bog-standard British homes more environmentally friendly. His own home in Carshalton Grove is a shining example of how a private residence can be retro-fitted to slash its energy use.
When Russell came to my house last month, it was to build up a picture of how my brother and I used our energy: how long was the heating switched on for every day? What controls were there on the radiators? Were the walls insulated and doors and windows draughty? What kind of light bulbs did we use? It allowed him to calculate that our expected annual energy use is around 156kWh a square metre and that our house emits around 5.5 tonnes of CO2 a year. Surprisingly, this compares quite favourably with the UK average of 262kWh a square metre for a private home and emissions of 7.1 tonnes of CO2 a year.
You can see a cut-down version of Russell's report here.
Russell said the lower-than-average energy use in our house was due to some of our better habits – switching most electrical appliances off rather than leaving them on standby, only having the heating and hot water on for a limited time every morning and evening and turning off the radiators in rooms that were largely unoccupied.
But there is still much room for improvement. In his audit, Russell identified that we had a much higher than average lighting bill thanks to the incandescent light bulbs still hanging from our ceilings. They accounted for 28% of our energy use when, in an average home, they would be just 7%. The second biggest chunk of energy cost for our home came with the heat we lost through our leaky doors and windows. The draughts in a normal home account for 5% of the energy bill; in ours it was 17%. Thanks to our scrupulous switching-off of televisions and DVD players and relatively new fridge and washing machine, our appliances' energy bills only accounted for 21% of the energy use, as opposed to 32% on average.
What to do with this information though? There are scores of big and small things you can do to reduce your home's carbon footprint but it is difficult to assess independently how effective each action is relative to another. Ranking these can also be difficult if you're on a budget – if you only have £3,000 to spend, which refurbishments have the biggest bangs for your buck?
Fortunately, Russell has attached a "home energy masterplan" to the pie-charts of my home's energy use. The individual actions I can take are grouped into low, medium and high cost and, next to each, is an idea of the payback time from savings in your energy bills.
It's intriguing to see where the house could get to in terms of energy efficiency if I went to town. According to the masterplan if I installed solar panels, triple-glazing and the highest spec internal wall insulation, I'd be looking at a bill of more than £25,000. This frenzy of green activity would reduce my energy use to a quarter of its present value and CO2 emissions from around 5.5 tonnes a year to 1.9 tonnes. You really would have to be purely in it for the environment to take this road, though, as the payback time from your energy bills is more than 30 years at current prices.
The more realistic options in the short-term are the zero-, low- and medium-cost options. By spending just under £1,000 on measures such as installing compact fluorescent lightbulbs, turning the thermostats down on the radiators by one setting, topping up loft insulation to 300mm, blocking off the chimneys to prevent draughts and lagging the hot water pipes, I could reduce my CO2 emissions and energy use in my home by 52%. My outlay would be paid back through savings in my energy bill within 18 months.
If I had a bigger budget, up to £6,000, I could do all of the above plus insulate the solid-brick external walls, seal the floorboards and insulate the ground floor too. This would give an energy reduction of 65% (and a CO2 reduction of 62%). The payback time is longer in this case at 8.5 years.
There is something very powerful about the numbers in Parity Eco's report. By laying bare the problems in the house, it allows you to tackle them in order of importance and get a clear sense of what every improvement is doing.
Before I started this project, for example, I was convinced that double-glazing would be the crucial thing for my house but was blanching at the cost. But Russell's report shows that it might not be the best use of my money: yes, it would reduce my energy footprint but at a cost of more than £10,000 (and that's upgrading the sash windows to UPVC), it would take more than 100 years to pay back the investment.
Much more important are the draughts around the windows and external doors. Seal those and install some heavy curtains and I can get almost all the benefits of double-glazing for a few hundred pounds, a fraction of the cost for double-glazing.
And replacing lightbulbs will clearly add up too. We have around 20 lightbulbs of various types around the house, with an output totalling more than a 1500 watts. This could very easily be cut to 150 watts for the entire house by replacing the incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs or LEDs. Take a moment to think about this and it's obvious, but how many of us sit down and total these things up? That would be energy saved every day.
So I now have a plan. Some of the building work will begin early next month – to install the insulation and replace the light fittings around the house so they can accept the low-energy bulbs we want to install. I'll keep you posted.

US carbon dioxide emissions drop

US government reports energy-related CO2 emissions declined by 2.8% in 2008

Associated Press, Wednesday 20 May 2009 21.46 BST

The US government is reporting that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions declined in America by 2.8% last year, the largest drop since it began keeping records of greenhouse gas pollution.
The US energy information administration attributed the decline to a 2.2% drop in energy demand in 2008. That was largely because of high gasoline and diesel prices last summer, and a sharp economic decline in the last half of the year.
The agency said about 5.8bn metric tonnes of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere in 2008 from US energy-related activities, or about 165mn metric tonnes fewer than in 2007.
Carbon dioxide pollution which accounts for 80% of greenhouse gases has grown by nearly 16% since 1990.

Helping US carmakers help themselves

Obama's new fuel efficiency standards will end Detroit's uncertainty and help make US automakers competitive again

Thomas Noyes, Wednesday 20 May 2009 21.00 BST

Barack Obama had surprising company when he announced new fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks yesterday. Standing with Obama were executives from Ford, Toyota, General Motors, Honda, Chrysler, BMW, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Mazda and the United Auto Workers.
It might seem surprising, but there are reasons why the automakers would welcome new national standards, if a little reluctantly. Yes the ongoing bailouts of GM and Chrysler make it harder for those companies to argue with the government, but the automakers have other, more compelling reasons to accept stricter mileage standards.
As hard as it might be for free-market fundamentalists to understand, automakers have openly welcomed a consistent, predictable standard they can use for planning and developing their products. The US has had two standards for years: the federal government's and California's, which 17 other states have embraced. Building models to meet two standards is expensive and slows down development.
Even worse for automakers was the uncertainty. Congress mandated new standards in 2007, but the Bush administration never followed through. Automakers have been waiting to see whether they would face one standard or two, making it difficult to develop new models. Now they will be able to move new products from the drawing board to the showroom without having to retool along the way.
For those worried about Detroit's economic health, it's worth pointing out that Cafe (corporate average fuel economy) standards, which have been in place for years, apply equally to Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen, as they do to Chrysler, Ford and GM.
Indeed, the new standards could create an opportunity for Detroit to play catch-up on small vehicles – a market segment ceded to German and Japanese automakers years ago. With Korean companies increasing US market share, and China and India knocking on the door, Detroit may finally realise that it can't ignore such a large market segment without becoming further marginalised.
In Detroit's glory days, GM, Ford and Chrysler offered a full range of products, from small starter cars to big luxury vehicles. They had a strategy of moving their customers up through their product lines, from entry-level compacts to station wagons to luxury sedans. Forty years ago, my grandparents had two GM cars in the driveway: a Cadillac and a small Corvair.
But in the 1970s, Detroit began to lose market share for entry-level vehicles. When I was growing up, we had a VW Beetle sitting next to the Ford or GM station wagon. Detroit's small cars ranged from whimsical (the AMC Gremlin) to dangerous (the fire-prone Ford Pinto).
After Japanese makers gained a foothold selling small, inexpensive cars to Americans, they leveraged their strength in that segment to introduce a wider range of products, until luxury brands like Lexus were seen as superior to their US counterparts.
Years after Detroit ceded the compact market to foreign competitors, and gradually lost market share up and down the product line, US auto executives still treated small, efficient cars as a low-margin afterthought. Being forced to focus on smaller, efficient new cars will give Detroit the opportunity to reintroduce itself to younger buyers, and perhaps build some of the loyalty it started losing a generation ago.
There should be little doubt that automakers can meet the new standards. As they used to say on Star Trek: "We have the technology." According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, fuel economy in the US has actually declined over the last two decades, even though engines have become more efficient.
The drop in fuel efficiency is almost entirely due to the increase in vehicle weight over the period. For years, the only innovation coming from Detroit was to build bulkier SUVs, until passenger vehicles weighing in at three or four tons became common. Truck sales (including SUVs built on truck platforms) grew from 19% of sales in 1975 to 48% in 2008. Only recently have SUV and light truck efficiency increased, after marginally higher standards went into effect.
Automakers will have to change their ways, starting with building lighter vehicles. While this doesn't mean we will all be driving subcompacts, it does mean that we can expect to see lighter cars, trucks and SUVs in the coming years.
But automakers will have to ramp up the innovation. It was only four years ago that GM nixed the idea of building an electric car. For decades most auto companies never moved new technologies past the concept stage. It used to be said that the electric vehicle was the car of the future and always would be. But now automakers are waking up to find that the future is now.

Mow Power, Less Gas

Over the past month, I've trimmed my grass four times, sliced firewood with a chainsaw, torn up lawn to reseed and weed-whacked my overgrown two-acre property.
It's gardening season. New eco-tools boast their earth-friendliness but how will they stack up against traditional gas-guzzlers? Wendy Bounds investigates.
And I haven't used a single drop of gasoline.
It's shaping up to be the summer of the "alternative energy" outdoor power tools. From battery mowers and garden cultivators to a new propane-propelled string trimmer, manufacturers and retailers are rolling out consumer machines that run on gas substitutes and boast lower emissions and fewer maintenance headaches.
Right now, Ariens Co. of Brillion, Wis., is introducing its $3,299 "AMP Rider" electric-motor mower that works off rechargeable lead-acid batteries and never needs an oil-change. Valley City, Ohio-based MTD Products Inc.'s Troy-Bilt brand just launched a $169 seven-pound lithium-ion battery trimmer it says can run up to 45 minutes on a single charge. And Vergennes, Vt.-based Country Home Products Inc., known for its futuristic Neuton brand battery push mower, just added four new tools with interchangeable nickel-cadmium batteries to its lineup, including a $109 chainsaw.
Meantime, home-improvement retailers are allocating more shelf space for these eco-machines, lured by slowing sales of gas models and robust interest in alternative-fuel models. At Home Depot Inc., 2008 was a record year, with double-digit sales growth, for non-gas outdoor equipment.
Two factors are driving the trend, says Wesley Neece, Home Depot senior merchant for lawn and garden: the greening of America and lingering caution about rising gas prices. Home Depot sells a range of items from corded and battery-powered push mowers to a trimmer just out from Los Angeles-based Lehr Inc. that's fueled by a small 16.4-ounce propane canister. Home Depot is just beginning to sell the Ariens battery AMP Rider online.
"There's a lot of innovation with battery technologies," Mr. Neece says. "There are longer run times, better performance, and then you have prices coming down. Everything is happening at once."
This market may get more heated thanks to newly proposed legislation that would offer consumers a 25% tax credit up to $1,000 toward the purchase of environmentally friendly lawn, garden or forestry power equipment. The "Greener Gardens Act" was introduced late last month by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) and two other U.S. congressional delegates from Vermont. It is designed to provide "immediate incentive for people to purchase clean, alternative fuel engines that ... operate on little or no fossil fuel."
While non-gas, corded and non-corded consumer power equipment has been around for years, the breadth of the offerings is fast-expanding. Towson, Md.-based Black & Decker Corp., which first introduced a battery push mower in 1970, recently has been expanding its line of outdoor tools with interchangeable 18-volt nickel-cadmium battery packs to include everything from a power scrubber for washing boats and cars, to a pruning saw. Marketing focuses on convenience and ease-of-maintenance as much as the environment.
"We now sell more dollars worth of cordless string trimmers than the corded one," says Joe Newland, Black & Decker's product manager for outdoor products. "There are tradeoffs, and what you lose in power, you gain in convenience and weight." He notes that female buyers are a particularly robust audience for gas-less tools. "They don't want to start with filling it. They just want to use it."

No massacre here: The reporter goes to work with a battery-powered Black & Decker chainsaw.

But it's the entrance of high-end gas tool makers such as Ariens and Sweden's Husqvarna Group to this consumer niche in the U.S. that signals the most notable strategy shift. This season, Husqvarna is introducing to its U.S. dealers an $899 rugged soil cultivator run off a single large lead-acid battery. The company also just launched an "EcoSmart" marketing campaign highlighting products that lessen their impact on the environment, such as its manual push reel mowers (U.S. sales almost doubled in 2008), and its solar-battery hybrid robot "Automower."
Part of the rush to develop new non-gasoline technologies is driven by increasingly tighter exhaust-emissions standards for outdoor power equipment. Last fall, the Environmental Protection Agency issued new rules requiring a 35% reduction in emissions from new lawn and garden equipment over the next few years. "I would describe the alternative fuel market as emerging and growing," says Kris Kiser, executive vice president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, an Alexandria, Va.-based trade group.
Still, manufacturers express caution about going cold turkey off gas in certain high-demand, heavy-use categories, lest performance suffer and dilute their brands. "A push mower, if it is going to have our name on it, it needs to be more robust than a cultivator," says Gent Simmons, a U.S. product manager for Husqvarna. "We are testing a very powerful premium battery push mower, and we are very close. But before we launch, the quality expectation has to be there."

Ariens Co.'s $3,299 'AMP Rider' electric-motor battery mower.
Likewise Stihl Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Germany's Stihl International GmbH, is proceeding cautiously with alternative-fuel machines while focusing on getting emissions down in its popular gas-powered chainsaws and blowers and beefing up corded electric equipment offerings. "It's one of those things where we want to be careful," says Roger Phelps, Stihl's promotional communications manager. "One thing customers are demanding is for performance to still be there. It's cool to have a battery-operated mower, but if it only gets halfway across the yard, that's not very cool."
So, just how far can you get on a single charge? For several weeks, I've been testing some of the newest and best-selling players in the category around my property.
The good news: In nearly every case, the batteries' duration was better than advertised. (Notably, these were new batteries.) Despite having a garage full of loyal gas models I mostly love (a Stihl chainsaw, an Echo trimmer and backpack blower, and Honda push mower), I relished not running to the gas station, cleaning a spark arrestor screen (don't ask) or fishing out a fuel filter for replacement this year. In some instances, the eco-tools' performance exceeded my expectations; I'd never have thought a small battery chainsaw could slice through an eight-inch trunk of Cherry tree without getting stuck. (For more on each machine's performance, see accompanying chart, as well as video at

The new $3,299 Ariens AMP Rider was the priciest and most ambitious entrant. It cut grass evenly and drove smoothly, save an awkward reverse pedal and some huffing and puffing on certain hills. Its small size was comfortable for a tall woman's frame, and even though its motor had a tinge of whininess, I could hold a conversation without screaming while mowing.
The challenge for the AMP will be cost and winning over heftier gas-rider enthusiasts accustomed to the power of their machines. After three or four years, Ariens says the batteries will need to be replaced -- at a current cost of about $749. However, the company says that price-tag is comparable to the $200 in annual savings users will reap based on not needing gas (based on $3 a gallon), oil, replacement filters, spark plugs and annual maintenance checkups. Chief Executive Dan Ariens says early retail signs for the AMP "are fairly good," given the state of the economy and the unit's price.
The battery push mowers I tested are cheaper ($400 to $500). My biggest beef was weight. While the two models, from Neuton and Black & Decker, cut well, didn't spew smelly fumes and started on a dime, at 70 to 76 pounds, respectively, they felt heavy on hilly turf. Neither was self-propelling though there are such models on the market, such as the Solaris brand.

By contrast, a new svelte 27-pound electric model called the "Mow Joe" from Edison, N.J.-based Snow Joe Co. was a breeze to lug around. But it needs a cord, which is cumbersome, and will cut to a Marine-style 2.4 inches. In the end, I still liked the old-school approach to groom my 3,500-square-foot lawn eco-style: a 34-pound push reel mower. It wasn't fancy, and I broke a sweat. Otherwise, it didn't cost a dime in energy.
This eco-tool trend doesn't look to end with summer. Due out for cold weather: a battery-powered snowblower from Ariens that its CEO says hurls snow farther in early tests than comparable gas models. Lehr says it will introduce a propane backpack blower this fall. And later this year, Husqvarna plans to launch a U.S. zero-turn radius mower run off propane, while Hustler Turf Equipment, a division of Hesston, Kan.-based Excel Industries Inc., is readying an all-electric zero-turn riding lawnmower called the "Zeon."
My gas machines are starting to look a little nervous.
Write to Gwendolyn Bounds at

Bill to Benefit Nuclear, Clean-Power Utilities


The Waxman-Markey bill will produce winners and losers in the utility sector.
Companies such as Exelon Corp., which provides utility services to about 12 million people in and around Chicago and Philadelphia, could do well. The company sold most of its coal-fired power plants in 2000 and owns a fleet of 17 nuclear power reactors in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. Exelon's generation unit won't need to buy credits to generate electricity, which could give it an edge.
Power companies in the Southeast could have the roughest transition, because they rely heavily on coal and have invested the least in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The Waxman-Markey bill would give power companies time to make adjustments so consumers don't get hit with higher rates tied to the cost of buying emissions credits.
Bloomberg News
Winners in the carbon economy will include clean-power generators. Above, Edison Mission Group windmills outside Spanish Fork, Utah.
Under a deal brokered by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and a group of Southern and Midwestern Democrats, approximately 30% of the emission allowances created under the cap and trade system would be free to utilities that distribute power to customers. That should enable them to sell allowances to emitters that need them and use the proceeds to defray the cost of obtaining cleaner energy. Free allowances would disappear by 2030.
One major provision of the bill will require utilities to obtain a chunk of their electricity from renewable sources -- 6% by 2012 and 20% by 2020. Utilities could claim credit for energy efficiency to offset part of that requirement.
From a regulatory standpoint, the challenge will be proving that utilities really have achieved the necessary energy reductions. It's harder to prove energy savings than it is to account for power generated by wind turbines or solar arrays.
Silicon Valley venture-capital investors hope the bill will fuel use of green energy technologies developed by "cleantech" start-ups. Many such companies have been struggling amid the drop in energy prices.
Warren Weiss, a venture capitalist at Foundation Capital in Menlo Park, Calif., says some of his firm's cleantech companies have already seen "a tremendous uptick" in sales and buzz. At the consuming end of the grid, appliance maker Whirlpool Corp. is looking at provisions that would provide bonus payments to retailers selling products ranking in the top 10% in terms of energy efficiency.
It is already researching products such as a clothes drier that can respond to "smart grids" -- encouraged by the bill -- and curtail energy use in peak periods without wrinkling clothes.
Write to Rebecca Smith at

Green technology should be shared

Big business is gearing up to fight the use of green technology by developing countries seeking to reduce carbon emissions

Mark Weisbrot, Wednesday 20 May 2009 19.00 BST

The battle over intellectual property rights is likely to be one of the most important of this century. It has enormous economic, social and political implications in a wide range of areas, from medicine to the arts and culture – anything where the public interest in the widespread dissemination of knowledge runs up against those whose income derives from monopolising it.
Now it appears that international efforts to slow the pace of worldwide climate disruption could also run up against powerful interests who advocate a fundamentalist conception of intellectual property
According to Inside US Trade, the US chamber of commerce is gearing up for a fight to limit the access of developing countries to environmentally sound technologies (ESTs). They fear that international climate change negotiations, taking place under the auspices of the United Nations, will erode the position of corporations holding patents on existing and future technologies.
Developing countries such as Brazil, India and China have indicated that if – as expected in the next few years – they are going to have to make sacrifices to reduce carbon emissions, they should be able to license some of the most efficient available technologies for doing so.
Big business is worried about this, because they prefer that patent rights have absolute supremacy. They want to make sure that climate change talks don't erode the power that they have gained through the World Trade Organisation.
The WTO is widely misunderstood and misrepresented as an organisation designed to promote free trade. In fact, some of its most economically important rules promote the opposite: the costliest forms of protectionism in the world.
The WTO's rules on intellectual property (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property, or Trips) are the most glaring example. These are designed to extend and enforce US-style patent and copyright law throughout the world.
Patents are monopolies, a restriction on trade that creates inefficiency in exactly the same way that tariffs, quotas or other trade barriers do. The economic argument for relaxing patent rules is therefore the same as that for removing trade barriers, only times 50 or 100 or even 1,000 – since the average tariff on manufactured or agricultural goods is quite small compared to the amount by which patent monopolies raise the price of a pharmaceutical drug.
These restrictions cost US consumers an estimated $220bn a year compared to competitive pricing – many times the gains from trade liberalisation that we could even hope to get from a successful completion of the current Doha round of negotiations in the WTO that began in 2001 in Qatar.
It took years of struggle by non-governmental organisations to loosen the big pharmaceutical companies' stranglehold on the WTO, to the point where the organisation's 2001 Declaration on Trips and Public Health reaffirmed the rights of member countries to produce generic versions of patented drugs in order to promote public health.
But this was just a first step, and seven years later these rights have been applied almost exclusively to anti-retroviral drugs for the treatment of Aids, in just a handful of developing countries. The power of the pharmaceutical companies, with their governments in the United States and Europe as advocates, still keeps life-saving medicines priced out of reach for hundreds of millions of the world's poor.
The legal procedure that has been used – although very infrequently – to allow for the production of generic drugs for the treatment of Aids is called a compulsory license. This means that a government can legally authorise the production of a generic version of a drug that is currently under patent, provided that this is done for public health purposes. A royalty is paid to the patent holder, but this is generally not very expensive.
Developing countries such as Brazil, India and China want to make sure that such possibilities are open for new environmentally sound technologies, eg in the areas of renewable energy, that might enable them to meet future targets for reducing carbon emissions. A Brazilian official noted that his country had only issued one compulsory license, for the anti-Aids drug Efavirenz, produced by Merck.
But big business doesn't want to take any chances. Today they are launching a new coalition called the Innovation, Development and Employment Alliance (Idea). (You've got to love the Orwellian touch of those marketing consultants). Members include General Electric, Microsoft and Sunrise Solar. They will reportedly also be concerned with intellectual property claims in the areas of healthcare and renewable energy.
For the intellectual property fundamentalists, the income claims of patent holders are property rights, seen as analogous to a homeowner's right to her house. But the framers of the US constitution (article I, section 8) didn't it see that way, and neither, for the most part, have US courts.
Our legal system has long taken into account that protection for patent and copyright monopolies must reflect an important tradeoff between rewarding innovation and creativity, on the one hand, and allowing for the dissemination of knowledge and the development of new technologies.
The WTO rules, driven by the protectionist interests of powerful corporations, have gone far to advance the fundamentalist view of intellectual property, at the expense of the world's economy and public health. Now our corporations fear that negotiators at the United Nations, under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, might not share these fundamentalist views, especially when the future of the planet is at stake.
Ten years ago environmentalists played a major role in exposing the built-in prejudice of WTO rules, which tend to strengthen commercial interests against environmental regulation. A tipping point was reached when they helped organise large-scale protests that shut down the WTO negotiations in Seattle in 1999, raising alarm bells and building opposition worldwide.
Environmental awareness and a sense of urgency with regard to climate change are much more broadly shared today. The Obama administration should take note of this and place itself squarely on the side of promoting the spread of environmentally sound technologies.

World's first battery fuelled by air

The world's first battery fuelled by air - with 10 times the storage capacity of conventional cells - has been unveiled.

Last Updated: 8:19AM BST 20 May 2009

Scientists say the revolutionary 'STAIR' (St Andrews Air) battery could now pave the way for a new generation of electric cars, laptops and mobile phones.
The cells are charged in a traditional way but as power is used or 'discharged' an open mesh section of battery draws in oxygen from the surrounding air.

This oxygen reacts with a porous carbon component inside the battery, which creates more energy and helps to continually 'charge' the cell as it is being discharged.
By replacing the traditional chemical constituent, lithium cobalt oxide, with porous carbon and oxygen drawn from the air, the cell is much lighter than current batteries.
And as the cycle of air helps re-charge the battery as it is used, it has a greater storage capacity than other similar-sized cells and can emit power up to 10 times longer.
Professor Peter Bruce of the Chemistry Department at the University of St Andrews, said: "The benefits are it's much smaller and lighter so better for transporting small applications.
"The size is also crucial for anyone trying to develop electric cars as they want to keep weight down as much as possible.
"Storage is also important in the development of green power. You need to store electricity because wind and solar power is intermittent."

Fuji Heavy Sees 2012 for Rollout of Hybrid Vehicle


TOKYO -- Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. hopes to launch a fuel-efficient hybrid vehicle by 2012 with technological support from Toyota Motor Corp. to brace for stricter emission regulations in key markets.
"We will take advantage of our alliance with Toyota," said Ikuo Mori, president and chief executive at Fuji Heavy, which sells vehicles under the Subaru brand, after a news conference launching the revamped Legacy model. Fuji Heavy is in a tie-up with Toyota in vehicle development, production and product supply.
Toyota, the world's leading hybrid maker a roughly 80% share in the U.S. market alone, owns a 16% stake in Fuji Heavy. Mr. Mori declined to specify which of the company's models will feature the hybrid system.
Write to Yoshio Takahashi at

Trading May Yet Bloom


For the handful of investments banks that resiliently kept their carbon-trading desks during the financial crisis, a potential payday may come a step closer this week.
Morgan Stanley and Barclays PLC were among banks that continued to trade in U.S. regional markets as well as Europe anticipating that the market would balloon with U.S. legislation capping carbon emissions. Others such as Credit Suisse and Suisse Re closed down their carbon trading desks as the financial crisis took hold.
The market, mainly driven by trading in Europe, reached $118 billion last year, a drop in the ocean when compared to the $15.3 trillion global commodities markets. The addition of the U.S. could help boost the global carbon market to $2.1 trillion by 2020, says New Carbon Finance, a London-based research firm.
"Carbon, while relatively small, is a critical piece of our commodities offering,'' said Nancy King, head of U.S. emissions trading at Morgan Stanley.
In recent years, banks, insurers and commodity brokerages set up carbon-emission trading desks in preparation for the opening up of the U.S. market.
But it wasn't smooth sailing. Carbon prices tumbled nearly two-thirds in Europe after the global financial crisis took hold last fall, before recovering some losses. Carbon markets contracted 16% to $28 billion for the first quarter.
Barclays Capital, which started trading carbon in 2004, has made some forays in the U.S. market by trading in the existing markets, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon cap and trade program among 10 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states.
While carbon trading is small, "we expect it to become a global commodity market, just like crude oil," said Louis Redshaw, head of carbon trading at Barclays Capital.
Write to Carolyn Cui at

Infinity has 180 days to recover

By David Blackwell
Published: May 21 2009 03:00

Infinity Bio-energy, the ethanol producer, is considering cancelling its Aim listing after its operating subsidiaries filed for judicial recovery in Brazil.
The company raised £270m when it joined Aim in 2006 as one of Collins Stewart's special purpose acquisition corporations (spacs). Collins Stewart brought the US concept of spacs - cash shells by another name - to Aim from the US.
Infinity's shares were suspended at 4 cents, giving it a market capitalisation of $4.3m (£2.7m). Just over a year ago the company was issuing shares at $5.20 each as part of the consideration for some of its acquisitions. In July it raised a further $38m through a mix of equity at $5 a share and convertible notes.
But the shares tumbled in September after the company reported a setback in milling the last sugar harvest because of delays in receiving equipment. It said yesterday that the situation had "been compounded by the international financial crisis and the difficulties the sugar and ethanol sector in Brazil has been facing".
Judicial recovery appears to be the Brazilian equivalent of the US Chapter 11 filing for protection from creditors. It is intended to facilitate the restructuring of economically viable businesses experiencing temporary financial difficulties. It will give the company 180 days to finalise a recovery plan for approval by its creditors.
The company said it was in talks about restructuring its debt and its business, which owns five mills in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo. It would "need to raise capital to fund its ongoing working capital needs and to repay its debt obligations".
It would be implementing a strategic review to consider "whether to take steps to put a resolution to the company's shareholders to request the cancellation of the listing" on Aim.
Investors in a spac expect the funds raised to be quickly spent on acquisitions to fulfil a specific plan.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Europe's largest onshore wind farm open and ready to expand

Scotland moves step closer to target of generating 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020

Severin Carrell, Wednesday 20 May 2009 11.24 BST

Europe's largest onshore wind farm, which is already powerful enough to meet Glasgow's electricity needs, is to expand by more than a third as part of a major green energy initiative by Scottish ministers.
The first minister Alex Salmond announced that the 322MW Whitelee wind farm south of Glasgow had been given permission to increase its capacity to 452MW, as he officially switched on the wind farm this morning.
The disclosure came as plans for an even larger scheme, to build a vast community-owned 150 turbine, 540MW scheme on Shetland, were lodged with the Scottish government.
Both projects would significantly boost Salmond's plans for half of all Scotland's electricity to come from green sources by 2020. The interim target – to generate 31% of electricity from renewable sources by 2011 – has already been surpassed, officials said.
Salmond said Scotland had the theoretical potential to generate 60 gigawatts of green energy, ten times the country's peak demand, because of its geographical position.
"The Scottish government is committed to taking full advantage of our 25% share in Europe's wave and windpower capacity," he said.
"We are determined to get rid of harmful emissions from our environment while capitalising on the vast economic opportunities our natural advantage in renewable energy poses."
The scheme on Shetland is being submitted to ministers later today by Viking Energy, a joint venture between Scottish and Southern Energy, which owns the UK's largest hydro-electricity plants, and an offshoot of
the local council, Shetland Charitable Trust.
If it wins ministerial approval, the scheme could alone supply 20% of Scotland's electricity needs. Shetland has the highest and most consistent wind speeds in the UK, making it a prime site for green energy developers.
However, the Viking windfarm is proving highly controversial. Despite five years of planning, negotiations with residents and redrafting of the scheme, more than 2500 islanders, over 10% of the population, have signed a petition opposing the project.
Campaigners with Sustainable Shetland argue the 150-turbine scheme, which will dominate the desolate hills and moors in the centre of Shetland's mainland, would significantly damage peat bogs and destroy the area's scenic value. A group spokesman said it would effectively industrialise the semi-wilderness area.
"The concern is that the project is too large for Shetland. It is located on some of Shetland's most inaccessible hills with the deepest peat and that will have huge environmental implications," he said.
"That would include the question how the windfarm will affect tourism, how it will affect property prices and how it will change any perception of Shetland."
Shetland Charitable Trust insists the project will greatly benefit the islands' vulnerable and isolated economy, bringing in direct profits, wages and community investments of up to £37m a year.
That would outstrip the island's income from the Sullom Voe oil terminal on Shetland, which has been crucial in giving Shetlanders the best standard of living of any of Scotland's island groups. The islands' main power station is run on diesel, which has to be imported specially be tanker.
In a unique deal brokered in 1973, Shetlanders received £80m in a part-share of all oil landed at Sullom Voe until 2000. The oil fund's value has fallen to £180m in the recession, but over the last 25 years, £200m has been spent on maintaining excellent roads, and building facilities such as sports and swimming centres, and old people's homes.
The oil fund no longer receives money from Sullom Voe, and with North Sea oil running out, Shetland faces much tougher economic times, becoming more reliant on fishing, agriculture and tourism.
David Thomson, Viking Energy's project officer, said: "Shetland is a fragile economy and we have to take every opportunity we can to diversify the economy. This is one of those very rare circumstances when something we can do is both good for Shetland but also for the rest of the nation. It's a win-win scenario."
Apart from securing ministerial approval, the Viking wind farm will also need a £500m, 600MW sub-sea cable laid from Shetland to export the electricity to the UK mainland. The tendering process for that interconnector is now underway; without it, the wind farm would be pointless.

Shetland stirred by giant Viking wind farm plan

Severin Carrell, Wednesday 20 May 2009 20.17 BST

For more than 30 years, life on Shetland has been sweet. Residents enjoy state of the art leisure centres, smooth roads and luxurious old people's homes the envy of every other islander in Scotland.
Thanks to a unique deal brokered in 1973 over the building of the Sullom Voe oil terminal, life on Britain's most northerly and weather-battered island group has been cushioned by an oil fund. For every barrel, Shetland levied a small fee: £200m has been spent improving the lives of its 22,000 residents, and the islands' trust still has £180m in reserve.
The oil money has stopped flowing and Shetland faces a new energy controversy which divides its close-knit population: the prospect of hosting Europe's largest onshore wind farm, a 600MW project that could generate a fifth of Scotland's entire electricity needs.
Scottish ministers have received the detailed planning application for the Viking wind farm project, a vast scheme involving 150 turbines over 12,800 hectares, which would dominate the desolate moors and hills of Shetland's main island.
The application was submitted as Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister, that the biggest wind farm so far built in Europe, at Whitelee, south of Glasgow, would expand again. The 322MW scheme, already large enough to meet Glasgow's electricity needs, will increase to 452MW.
Supporters of Shetland's proposal argue that the islands have prospered by exploiting North Sea oil, yet use diesel shipped in by tanker to fuel their largest power station, even though the islands have the strongest and most consistent winds in Europe.
Proof of Shetland's potential comes from a modest wind turbine called Betsy. One of five small turbines on Shetland's only wind farm, the 660 kilowatt machine is believed to be the world's most efficient wind turbine, reaching between 52% and 59% of its maximum potential output, double the average of most on the British mainland.
The developers claim the Viking wind farm, a joint venture between the Shetland Islands Trust and the utility company Scottish and Southern Energy, could earn Shetland up to £37m a year in profits, investment and wages.
The Sullom Voe oil deal ended in 2000, and with oil landings there now half their peak level, the terminal's economic value is declining. Shetland's unemployment rate is currently 2.4%, nearly half Scotland's average, while wages match the Scottish average and health spending of nearly £2,000 a head is £200 more than average.
Without the Viking project, the islands will rely on fishing, tourism, the public sector and a fast diminishing oil fund, said David Thomson, Viking Energy's project officer.
"Shetland is a fragile economy and we have to take every opportunity we can to diversify the economy. This is one of those very rare circumstances when something we can do is both good for Shetland but also for the rest of the nation. It's a win-win scenario."
That is disputed. More than 2,500 of Shetland's 22,000 residents have signed a petition opposing the project; arguing that the 145 metre-high turbines (475ft), substations, quarries and 62 miles of access roads, would dominate the main island's desolate hills and moors, devastating the deep peat bog that carpets much of the interior.
Billy Fox, the chairman of Sustainable Shetland, argues that the scheme is too large, too damaging and too risky for such a small island. "Shetland has just 2% of Scotland's land area, but you're looking at putting the largest onshore wind farm in Europe on it, to supply 20% of Scotland's electricity supply. It's simply out of all proportion," he said.
The islands needed much smaller, local wind farms and the scheme could devastate the peat bogs which themselves store significant amounts of carbon dioxide, he said, and releasing that into the atmosphere contradicted the objective of combating climate change.
"There's no denying the wind energy efficiency factor on Shetland is higher than anywhere else in the UK," he said. "But it all comes down to scale. This will have a huge effect on the landscape.
"This isn't a nimby situation. We're not against renewables per se, but we want to see them fit for scale, fit for purpose. This is simply too large. The jury really is out on whether large scale wind farms are the answer to our carbon emissions anyway.
"The oil industry won't go away for several decades, but the arguments about wind generation as a means of combating global warming, the jury is still out on that."